Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Move On

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

The reaction to this year’s election in our community is different than any other in recent memory. Too many people are genuinely afraid of what will come next. Too many people are expressing a real and deep concern about the future of this country and our place in it. An examination of what transpired and a sober, rational analysis is in order.

Let’s try to keep everything in its proper perspective. It is important to know that presidents come and presidents go and the republic stands. The country is in no danger of lurching dramatically out of control anytime soon. The country faces problems that have no historical precedent and no one is really sure of how to proceed. It is seriously doubtful that the new administration will be able to contemplate initiating a radical leftist economic agenda at this point. Bush sunk the federal government so deeply into debt that it is beyond the realm of seriousness to believe that someone can come in and sink the government much further into debt with no foreseen way of paying it back anytime in the future.

Any student of our system of government will admit that change of any type at this juncture of history should come slowly and carefully.

What the country needs more than anything is a leader who can restore public trust in government, in each other, and in the financial system. President Bush has many fine attributes, but his severe deficiency in communicating with the people of this country doomed his presidency and dropped him to a 20% approval rating.

During the recent campaign, John McCain didn’t display an ability to speak to and connect with the citizens on a level better than Bush.

His campaign was a dismal failure. He lurched between talking points and never presented the voters with a cohesive argument to vote for him. The fact that Obama didn’t walk away with a historic landslide victory is testament to the fact that had McCain been able to project a sense of leadership and communication, he would be the president-elect.

No, I didn’t vote for Obama, but now that he has won, it behooves us to accept his victory and move on. It is unbecoming of us to wallow in what-ifs and torture the thought that he is some type of devil out to consciously destroy the country. It is immature and unintelligent to speak of preparing passports so that we can be prepared to run away from here, and not only because there is nowhere to run.

A generation ago, the country was floundering in depression with a misery index keeping score of how badly things were going. Hakadosh Boruch Hu then sent us the gift of Ronald Reagan. A politician derided as being hopelessly foolish and out of touch who used his gifts of oratory to raise the morale of the country. He promised sunshine for America, and he delivered. Armed with a brave conservative focus, in two terms of office he stabilized the economy, rebuilt the military, stared down our enemies and, by being an effective communicator, re-energized the country.

President-Elect Obama has the ability to be another Reagan. He has the ability to connect with the people and speak to them in a way that can instill the confidence that is so sorely lacking. During the past two years, he has demonstrated a once-in-a-generation talent for being able to charge people of all ages, colors and political persuasions. Until now he has been way too liberal for many of us, but that doesn’t mean that he can’t read the polls which indicate that only 20% of people who voted for him identify themselves as liberals. Only 19% think that raising taxes is a good thing.

He didn’t win the critical state of Ohio because he was able to convince more Ohioans to vote for him than John Kerry was in 2004. In fact, he received about the same amount of votes in that state as Kerry did. He won because John McCain received 300,000 fewer votes there than George Bush did.

He won because McCain gave up his lead when the meltdown hit Wall Street and he acted so irrationally in dealing with the bailout package that people lost confidence in him. Obama remained calm and presidential during the anxious time, offering an upbeat message and promising tax cuts for most Americans. He was only peripherally involved with the bailout, which was opposed by most Americans. Instead, he convinced the majority, who feel that tax cuts - rather than increased spending – will cure the economy, that he advocated their position.

If there is one thing that politicians can do well, it is read polls.

Once a person achieves a position of power and realizes the ramifications of his actions, he begins to behave differently. Very rarely do presidents govern according to the extremes they embodied during a campaign, much the same as it is difficult to ascertain which way Supreme Court justices will rule once they are placed on the court for life. Several of them have been utter surprises and made complete turnarounds once given the mandate. It is doubtful that Obama will behave in office the way his predecessor, Jimmy Carter, did. If he does, he will meet a similar fate, be rendered ineffective, and be counted out in short order.

What worries me more than Obama’s election is that we are becoming less intelligent as a community. We are making snap decisions about people and increasingly judging people based upon superficial indices without enough thoughtful perception.

Instead of fighting a good fight and accepting that we can lose with dignity and live to fight another day, we have become sore losers and seek to utterly destroy our opponents. If we lose an argument or a vote, we fail to learn from our losing experience and take lessons for future disputes. We don’t practice until we persevere. We expect to win every battle, every time. And when we don’t, we become hateful and spiteful.

We demonize people with whom we disagree instead of doing our best to win by engaging in honest and open debate. We don’t fine tune our arguments and present a winning logic. We throw around rhetoric, platitudes and inane polemic instead of dignified reason.

Because Obama palled around with former terrorists doesn’t mean that he is a terrorist. Because he was member of a church with a wacky leader doesn’t make him wacky. Of course his relationships are troubling, but he is definitely a narcissist who uses people to advance his career. Once he arrived in Chicago and sought for himself a path to political office, he set about establishing the credentials he needed in order to win favor with the leftist political bosses and voters. I make no apologies for William Ayers, but perhaps we should bear in mind that the socialist professor was recently declared Chicago Citizen of the Year. As the recipient of a generous Annenberg grant he was in the position to distribute millions of dollars to his cronies’ programs. It is the habit of aspiring politicians to befriend such people.

It may very well be that his dubious friendships and memberships were cynical moves by a pragmatic, ambitious lawyer designed to gain the future support of the local electorate. Once he no longer needed those people and associations, he threw them under the bus and gained a new set of friends and sponsors. There is reason to hope that now that he has attained the power he so craved, he will be smart enough to govern from the center, so that he will maintain public support and be able to win re-election.

His campaign, as is known, was led by Jews. His first appointment following his election was that of a Jew. Certainly, Rahm Emanuel’s religion is not the reason he was chosen for the job of chief-of-staff, but the fact that it didn’t torpedo his selection ought to be an indication that Obama is not the evil anti-Semite many fear he is. It is irresponsible and imprudent to portray him as another Hitler and thus inflame the passions of a people who are just beginning to recover from the real Hitler ym”sh.

It is simplistic to believe that he will be any more forceful than President Bush was towards Israel and obligate Israel to establish a Palestinian state if the Israeli leaders won’t acquiesce to the idea. Let us not forget that Bush was the first American president to openly advocate and call for a Palestinian state. Bush did as much as any of his predecessors to force Israel into nonsensical agreements with its sworn enemies. And we can’t ignore the fact that Bush did not face down the Iranians in a meaningful way to force them to give up their ambition for nuclear weapons with which to threaten Israel.

Don’t forget that it was Bush administration policy which allowed Hamas to become such a powerful force as the elected governing body of Gaza after Israel vacated that area on its own free will.

Even after the Gaza disaster, Israelis voted for the party which was formed to promote more such activity. No one forced Ehud Olmert upon the country; the people elected him on their own free will. Current Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni openly says that she will divide Yerushalayim and establish a Palestinian state if elected in February. If the Israeli people go down that misguided path, blame cannot be placed on the American president, but rather on the Israelis’ own foolishness and blindness.

Do I know that Obama will be a good president? Do I know that he will serve our best interests? No, of course not. But I have to believe that he will try. And we must give him a chance to prove himself before we pine for the election of 2012. If he acts foolishly, there will be plenty of time between now and then to respectfully disagree and criticize his actions. If he governs as the ultra-leftist his past would indicate, his honeymoon with the American people will be over very quickly and he will experience an accelerated downhill roll.

A little boy in the fifth grade of Yeshiva Beis Mikroh in Monsey, NY, was selected by his teacher to campaign for election as Barack Obama. He came home and asked his father to write him a campaign speech. The presidential speechwriter threw in, as an applause line, “If elected, I promise to remember the kids of this country and enact longer recess.”

The candidate read the speech slowly and quietly to himself and returned to his father. “Abba, the speech is very good, but I can’t say this part about recess. I am running for election as president of the United States and a president has to do what’s good for the citizens of the country. Too much recess is not a good thing. Kids go to school to get educated and a president has to do what he can to make sure that kids get a good education, not more recess.”

Okay, I admit, the candidate was my ten-year-old son, but his words portrayed a brilliant comprehension of the responsibility of a president. And if my son Ari understands that, you can be sure that the president-elect, no matter what political persuasion he is, has the intelligence to recognize that his primary obligation is to act in a responsible manner.

The onus is also upon us to behave and think levelheadedly. A while ago, before anyone thought that Obama would go all the way, I did something perhaps rash and irresponsible, but I wanted to teach my children an important lesson and couldn’t think of a better way to do it.

We were driving along the FDR Drive in Manhattan and I exited to the streets of the city for a drive through Harlem. We stopped and parked across the street from an outdoor mall which had no customers. The mall consisted of stands selling African clothing and goods. As we walked through the mall, the shopkeepers couldn’t have been nicer and more courteous to us, though they did seem shocked by our presence there.

My family was petrified as the ordeal began, but as the frightful minutes ticked by, they became noticeably looser, though there was a huge sigh of relief when we retreated to the safety of our car, which, yes, was still there in one piece.

I explained to them that we did this to show that senseless bigotry has no place in our society, and though we must always behave responsibly, preconceived notions of every white person in Harlem being seen as a potential crime victim are gross exaggerations. We should judge people on the basis of their actions and character.

While I don’t advocate for everyone to run out and copy my little lesson with their own families, the experience that lasted about ten minutes taught a lesson that is etched for lifetime.

We have no business jumping to conclusions about this man, or any man, based upon his heritage, the color of his skin, or where he lives. This is doubly so because for centuries people have treated us askance because of bigoted stereotypes. As people who have been victimized by unfair prejudices, we ought to acknowledge that every person, Jew or Gentile, is entitled to be able to establish his own record on which to be judged.

Any examination of the recent campaign and Mr. Obama’s ascent to the most powerful position in the world leads one to the recognition that he could not have been elected without the Divine will. It is unprecedented for a person to be as inexperienced and as liberal as he and yet unify the country to support his election. No prior candidate has ever run as flawless a campaign or raised as much money from as many people as Mr. Obama did.

Let us recognize that all that transpires is part of a Divine plan. We may not always understand the workings of Hashem, but we must recognize them and then observe as the pieces fall into place. As observant Jews, we must ensure that we don’t act erratically and foolishly in golus. Nor should we be complacent or smug. We must maintain the proper proportion of what is transpiring.

We must be thankful that we live in an enlightened democratic country that accepts us and lets us live, worship and work in peace. Jews are not only tolerated, but are treated well and supported in this country. Jews have risen to the highest levels of power in this land, and that is not in jeopardy. We may be in for hard times, but let’s keep it all in perspective and remember that it is up to us and our maasim tovim to determine the outcome of this trying historic period.

Lev melochim vesorim beyad Hashem” is not just some overused cliché, it is the truth. “Yishmah Keil.” Hashem will really listen to us if we trust in Him and reach out to Him as we should.

We all know that it was foretold that in the times of Moshiach, we will recognize that ein lonu lehisha’ein elah al Avinu shebashomayim. We will have no one to depend on but Hashem, as everything else that we believed in will crumble.

Let us do what we all know is incumbent upon us to merit the Divine mercy and countenance as the world prepares for the coming of Moshiach tzidkeinu, bimeheirah beyomeinu.

Now more than ever.


Blogger Devorah said...

With respect Rabbi, that article did not help anyone.

10:43 PM  

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